And then there were two...

THE search for the next England manager is nearing its climax with Martin O’Neill and Steve McClaren apparently neck-and-neck in the race to succeed Sven-Goran Eriksson.

The FA’s nominations panel are expected to finish interviewing the candidates on the shortlist this week.

The panel - FA chairman Geoff Thompson, chief executive Brian Barwick, international committee chairman Noel White, Premier League chairman Dave Richards, Arsenal vice-chairman and FA board member David Dein and FA director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking - will then meet to decide on their first choice. But a decision on the timing of any announcement has yet to be made.

Sam Allardyce, Alan Curbishley and Luis Felipe Scolari have also been interviewed, but it now looks a straightforward choice between O’Neill and McClaren.

O’Neill is understood to be favoured by Barwick but McClaren’s experience as Eriksson’s assistant and Middlesbrough’s run to the UEFA Cup and FA Cup semi-finals has seen his star rise. The other point in his favour is that he is English, while O’Neill is Northern Irish, though Barwick views the Ulsterman as being “as good as English” through his long connection with the English game.

The odds on Bolton boss Allardyce have been cut from 12-1 to 8-1 after a flurry of bets on him, but the obstacles in his way appear too great.

Allardyce’s often controversial outbursts have not endeared him to some of those on the five-man nominations panel. Allardyce was scathing when Brooking was appointed two years ago, and now the former England midfielder is one of those deciding on Eriksson’s successor.

Ladbrokes latest betting: 11/8 Steve McClaren, 6/4 Martin O’Neill, 3/1 Alan Curbishley, 8/1 Sam Allardyce, 16/1 Peter Taylor 16/1, 18/1 Luis Felipe Scolari.

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